WHILE the United Arab Emirates draws international visitors to its flashy five-star hotels and massive shopping malls, its neighbour to the east, Oman, has taken a slightly more subtle approach to developing its tourism industry.
Oman is hoping that the preservation of its heritage sites and spectacular landscapes — rather than rapid modernisation of both — will attract visitors seeking a more laid back Arabian experience.
The capital, Muscat, may not have many towering glass skyscrapers, but that doesn’t mean that visitors to this Gulf nation have to rough it.
Oman has a wealth of luxury experiences that provide modern comforts in a unique Middle Eastern setting.
1. The Chedi, Muscat
Muscat’s waterfront has a charming promenade next to the city’s old Matrouh souk, perfect for a sunset stroll. The bazaar next door is small, but has narrow alleys lined with carpet and spice vendors, and is one of the most authentic in the Middle East.
The beachfront Chedi Hotel, just west of the old city, is one of Muscat’s best. Built in traditional Omani style and with a bright white facade, its 182 rooms and high ceilings offer an atmosphere of palatial grandeur.
The Chedi’s narrow infinity pool, which the hotel claims is the longest pool in all of Oman, stretches to the Indian Ocean and is major draw.
2. Royal Opera House
Abu Dhabi and Doha may be building world-class museums like the Louvre and the Guggenheim, but Muscat is the only city on the Arabian Peninsula with its own opera house.
Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, opened the Royal Opera House Muscat in 2011. The main hall seats around 1000 and regularly stages concerts, ballets and theatrical productions.
It has hosted international artists such as Placido Domingo and the London Symphony Orchestra.
The beautifully constructed building itself is worth a visit even if you can’t catch a show; it blends traditional Omani design with modern acoustic technology and is one of the most recognisable sights in Muscat.